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‘Wop’ Life: How a Miley Cyrus Twerk Video Started Rap’s ‘Harlem Shake’ Moment

Montana, no French

On March 20, Miley Cyrus uploaded a video of herself twerking to Facebook. Because she was an ex-Disney Channel star presenting herself doing something that we don’t expect ex-Disney Channel stars to do, the video quickly spread across the Internet and beyond, even popping up on morning talk shows like Today and Good Morning America. The original Facebook post has been liked over 53,000 times and has been shared another 25,000. The same video on YouTube has over 4 million views. Mirrors of the video on other YouTube accounts have racked up at least another million views. This is by now a very typical Internet tale, but it’s a story arc that the music industry is just now getting used to.

Sandwiched in between songs by the country artists Thompson Square and Kenny Chesney on this week’s Billboard Hot 100 is a track called “Wop” by the Florida rapper J. Dash. Last week it entered the chart at No. 82 before jumping 30 spots to where it sits now. And “Wop” is not a new song, by any means: It was released on J. Dash’s January 2012 album Tabloid Truth, but dates back much further. The official video (with a verse from Flo Rida) was uploaded in January 2011. Fan-made videos for the song go back more than a half-decade: The first page of YouTube results reveals a video dating back as far as September 2007. The “wop” as a dance dates back to the 1980s, though J. Dash’s version appropriates the name for a dance that’s decidedly more contemporary.

“Wop” has had a protracted but not insignificant lifespan up to this point. It was a regional dance hit in the South, spending a handful weeks at the bottom of Billboard‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart in 2012 and even going gold with 500,000 in digital sales. But it never exactly bubbled up into pop culture like Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie” or GS Boyz’s “Stanky Legg” or Dem Franchize Boyz’s “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It.” That was, at least, until Miley Cyrus logged onto Facebook on March 20. YouTube’s thriving homemade video culture embraced “Wop” much like it did those aforementioned dance crazes — Miley Cyrus, after all, was simply adding to the legacy. But thanks to Billboard‘s new chart metrics — the same that pushed “Harlem Shake” to No. 1 — “Wop” is the first of these tracks to immediately benefit from fans uploading their own videos and watching others. YouTube streams are now incorporated into the Hot 100’s formula: Though decoding the Hot 100 from the outside is an inexact science, it seems obvious where the push for “Wop” is coming from.

The track has shot up the Hot 100 without making much of a dent in Billboard‘s other conventional charts. It does not appear on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, nor does it appear on the Digital Songs chart. It is not one of iTunes’ 200 most downloaded songs and — as of this writing — is only the service’s 52nd most downloaded Hip-Hop/Rap song, behind tracks like “Gangsta’s Paradise,” “U Can’t Touch This” and “Just a Friend.” But where it does stand out is on the Streaming Songs chart, where it’s currently No. 13, ahead of legit smashes by, Pitbull, and Taylor Swift.

Here, Billboard also guards its recipe closely, saying only that the chart measures the “top streamed radio songs and on-demand songs and videos on leading online music services.” But anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that YouTube streams are carrying the weight as it pertains to “Wop.” The song, for instance, does not appear on Spotify’s Top 100 most-streamed tracks. It is a mini-sensation on YouTube however, even with the audio being disabled on Cyrus’ original video. 

“Wop” likely won’t become a meme on the level of “Harlem Shake,” but it is rap’s first, er, “Harlem Shake” moment — a track that has ridden YouTube streams up the chart. All it took was a white person ripping off a dance from black culture. Imagine that.